I-SWARM robots are three-legged solar-powered droids which are less than 4 mm long, wide, tall. Two things to note:
1) I-SWARM stands for "intelligent small-world autonomous robots for micro-manipulation."
...a single microrobot by itself is a physically simple individual. But many robots communicating with each other using infrared sensors and interacting with their environment can form a group that is capable of establishing swarm intelligence to generate more complex behavior.
2) it's now possible for them to be mass-manufactured.
The researchers, from institutes in Sweden, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, explain that their building approach marks a new paradigm of robot development in microrobotics. The technique involves integrating an entire robot — with communication, locomotion, energy storage, and electronics — in different modules on a single circuit board. In the past, the single-chip robot concept has presented significant limitations in design and manufacturing. However, instead of using solder to mount electrical components on a printed circuit board as in the conventional method, the researchers use conductive adhesive to attach the components to a double-sided flexible printed circuit board using surface mount technology. The circuit board is then folded to create a three-dimensional robot...
As this was the first test of this fabrication technique, the researchers noted that they encountered some fabrication problems. The single largest problem was to connect the naked integrated circuit to the flexible printed circuit board by the conductive adhesive. Also, some solar cells did not stick due to weak adhesion...
Many of these complications could likely be corrected, with the important result being that the microrobots can be assembled using a surface mounting machine, whereas prior robots have usually been manually assembled with a soldering iron...
In the future, the researchers hope to move from building academic prototypes to manufacturing the robot on a commercial basis, which is necessary for overcoming some of the technical issues. By mass-producing swarms of robots, the loss of some robotic units will be negligible in terms of cost, functionality, and time, yet still achieve a high level of performance. Currently, the researchers hope to find funding to reach these goals.
"Right now the robots need a new ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit] and some other redesigns to be able to work properly," Edqvist said. "We have, however, (in a not yet published article) shown that the robot would have been able to walk at 3.0 V (the solar cell delivers 3.6 V), so with new funding, they could be up and running and be produced in large numbers."
Be afraid. Be very afraid.